The Council agreed its negotiating position on the Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers Directive on 21 June 2018. On the basis of this mandate, the Council will start negotiations with the European Parliament once the latter has adopted its position.

Aim of the work-life balance directive

The proposal of the Work-Life Balance Directive was launched by the European Commission on 26 April 2017. It is the first legislative proposal following the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Whether it is successful will be an early indicator for assessing if social issues are now back on the EU agenda.

The aim of the proposal is to improve access to work-life balance arrangements, such as leave and flexible working arrangements for parents and carers. It should boost the take-up of family-related leave by men, which will help increase female labour market participation. The directive would introduce an individual right to carers' leave, previously not recognised at EU level. In addition, the directive would also extend the right to request flexible working arrangements for parents, until the child is at least eight years old, and do the same for carers. For example, parents and carers could ask for flexible working hours or working patterns and for the right to work remotely.

What is the Council’s position?

The approval of a common position at the Council is an important step, as it means that the legislative process can continue and the directive could be approved before the 2019 European elections. However, the Council has agreed on a text which introduces significant changes to the Commission’s proposal.

The Commission proposal included a leave of five days for carers which should be paid at sick leave level. However the Council position only maintains a reference to a carers’ leave scheme, removing the reference to five days minimum leave and the need to have it paid at least at sick-pay level. Therefore the Member States will decide on the duration of the carers’ leave as well as on the pay level.

The Council position has kept all the key points included in the Commission’s proposal on flexible working arrangements for carers. Nevertheless, the proposal does not include any specific definition of what kind of arrangements are to be considered in order to allow carers to keep their jobs as they adapt to the changing care needs of their relatives.

What does The European Social Network (ESN) recommend?

ESN acknowledges the importance of this proposal for fostering gender equality, strengthening the right to parental leave and highlighting the importance of rights for informal carers across Europe.

As the legislative process continues, ESN believes the European Parliament should specify that the level of carers leave be made at least five days and include a reference for payment at sick-pay level. Moreover, specific proposals on how to improve the care infrastructure should be included in the directive in order to ensure that carers have access to appropriate, affordable support and training.

As stated in the opinion adopted by the Women's Rights and Gender Equality committee, ‘work life-balance measures are a requirement not limited to women rights, but also necessary for safeguarding the rights of men and gender equality in general. They are also instrumental for the EU economy, including for combating the negative effects of population aging and labour shortages’.